Wow, it’s hot out there and thinking about planting a Fall garden just doesn’t seem logical! Well starting a fall garden in most areas take place just after the Summer solstice. This is the time to start your fall transplants from seeds indoors or in a cooler greenhouse. Starts such as, broccoli, cabbages, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts and kohlrabi. These are planted late summer to be ready early fall. To determine when to start planting, find out the first average frost date, count back the number of days from the first frost date to the days to maturity of the veggie, which can be found on your seed packets. I like to add a week, just in case. Most everything you plant in the early spring you can plant in the fall. Many vegetables flavor improves when nipped by a light frost. Don’t forget about the root crops. Carrots, beets, radishes, rutabagas and turnips. Roots crops can be kept in the ground through the winter with a covering of straw or mulch in milder climates. I love to store root crops in the ground. They are fresher, and no inside storage room needed!
A few things to remember when planting in the fall is it is warm, warm enough that your plants and seeds will need watering more often. Much more often than in the spring! Seeds won’t germinate if you soil surface stays dry more than a few hours. I have to water several times a day to keep the soil moist here in Southern Utah. When planting lettuce seeds you can plant and cover with a row cover right on top of the surface. This will keep the soil cooler, moister and shade the seeds to help them to germinate. You can water right over the top of row cover until the seeds have germinated and up about 1/2″. This will also help to keep the seeds in place. Once seeds have germinated you can cut back on watering and remove the cover in the evening time to prevent sun scorch. This same cover can be used again when a freeze is expected. Soil should stay moist, but not soggy. When planting seeds in the fall, plant them just a little deeper than you would during the spring. When planting in the spring the soil is cooler and the further down you go, the cooler the soil, the slower the germination. Sometimes if planted to deep seeds can rot. Fall soil is warmer, so planting just a little deeper will ensure the soil is cooler and more moisture is there to help with the germination process. Take peas. In the spring I plant only 1/2″ deep and in the fall I plant a full 1″ deep. The surface dries out very quickly in warm weather. When transplanting your new tender starts out, do it in the evening. If planted in the morning they are more likely to wilt and be stressed. Plants that have been stressed never produce to their potential.
Planting Brassicas (broccoli, cabbage, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower): When planting Brassicas, amend the soil with plenty of compost. If your starts are a little spindly, plant them one inch deeper then the original soil level. Work about 2 tablespoons of all-purpose fertilizer in the hole. Make sure you mix the fertilizer with the soil. You don’t want the fertilizer to be in direct contact with the roots. One thing that I am always doing is experimenting in the garden. Sometimes good and sometimes not so good. But I never consider it a mistake, only a lesson learned. Last year I used 1/2 teaspoon of granular mycorrhizal fungi in each planting hole. The results were amazing. Twice the size of broccoli heads on the ones I used the michorizae . This was side by side plantings in the same bed. I will be using this on all my Brassica crops from now on. All Brassica benefit from a firm soil, so heel (firm the soil in around the plants) the plants in well. Victorian master gardeners check whether plants are properly planted by gently tugging a leaf. If it tears, the plants are nice and firm, if the plant pulls out of the ground….replant. Cauliflowers are temperamental. They do best in fertile soil, humus rich, moisture-retentive, free-draining soil in a sheltered, sunny part of the garden. Cauliflowers need regular watering. They are totally unforgiving, and you can allow them to dry out! Kale is such a great crop to grow in the fall, because of its ease to grow and ability to hold over through the winter. And if covered with row cover it will continue to grow all winter long in milder climates like mine. Kohlrabi looks and tastes similar to a turnip (only better). The bulbous edible portion grows just above the soil line. I have used the bulb in place of cabbage for making cole slaw. Fabulous! Cabbages are heavy feeders that require fertile soil rich in organic matter and consistent moisture, especially close to harvest to prevent cracking. Harvest when sizable and tight when squeezed. Brussel sprouts should only be grown in milder climates in the fall and covered through the winter. It takes about 3 months before sprouts first appear. They take patience. But then again, that is the whole gardening experience……….
Fall planting can be one of the most rewarding crops. You don’t have near the bug or disease problems that you usually do in the spring and the weeds have slowed to a milder pace. Fall is my absolute most favorite time of the year. Some say it’s the end of the growing season, I call it just the beginning of another growing season. If you haven’t grown a fall garden before, give it a try, enjoy the harvest!